secure housing unit

The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the army?

January 25, 2015

by Todd Ashker

Published in the SF Bay View, Jan. 25, 2015 and on Prisoner Hunger Strike Support

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.

I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.

Let me give you another example of this, so there is no misunderstanding: I received my CDCr number in December 1982, and in all my time in prison I’ve never had a problem with a cell-mate. In October 1990, I was set up and shot by a guard here in PBSP SHU. This is supported by a published 9th Circuit Court ruling, upholding the federal court jury verdict in 1995, finding the guard in question had subjected me to assault and battery. This injury caused permanent disability and, between 1990 to 2002, I had cellmates who would assist me with daily activities, such as washing the clothes we are not permitted to send to the laundry and with writing. For example, if you’re an African, they’ll put you in a pod without any other Africans anywhere close to you so that you will not be able to speak to any other African prisoner for the duration of time you are on status with the staff. If you’re Southern Mexican (classified as Mexican Mafia), you’ll be put in a pod with no other Southerners – a pod composed of several Northerners, maybe a White and an African – the same if you’re a Northern Mexican or White.

Between November 1995 and December 2002, the man I was celled with and I achieved three published rulings that were favorable for prisoners across the nation, in 2003. And in August 2002, the 9th Circuit Court overturned the District Court’s dismissal of one of our lawsuits regarding pepper spray decontamination policy issues, finding that it could proceed as a respondeat superior claim as well, a rarity in prisoner cases. And in September 2002, the District Court issued two permanent injunctions on our lawsuits re books and the ability to receive materials downloaded from the internet in our mail.

In response, the prisoncrats issued a memo in October 2002 in which they sought to further restrict prisoners’ incoming mail. We had an attorney contact the warden and the deputy attorney general representing CDCr in our lawsuits, demanding they cease their retaliatory acts in response to the injunctions we’d just obtained. And by November they rescinded the memo re mail restrictions.

Then on Dec. 3, 2002, they moved my cellmate and me to a lexan cell, a cell covered with lexan plastic which restricts air flow and the ability to communicate with other people in the pod even more, as well as being either too hot or too cold; and the following day they separated us. The pretext used to justify these retaliatory acts was an incident in another pod, wherein a White prisoner attempted to spear an officer. We weren’t in the same pod and had nothing to do with this incident and were never written up for being involved. We were both isolated from all other Whites and kept in the single cell lexan cells.

“PBSP Abolish the SHU” – Art: Juan Gonzalez, P-44448, PBSP SHU C11-107, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“PBSP Abolish the SHU” – Art: Juan Gonzalez, P-44448, PBSP SHU C11-107, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

In July 2003, the associate warden granted my formal request to be able to double cell with a good friend, so that he could assist me with my daily activities, as per ADA (American Disabilities Act). He was then brought over to the lexan cell that I’d been in since Dec. 2, 2002.

We immediately began to challenge various conditions of confinement via the 602 inmate appeals process, and on May 19, 2004, we filed our lawsuit challenging our indefinite SHU confinement and related no-parole policies. This suit was a precursor to what is now our class-action lawsuit, and on June 8, 2004, we were single celled. I objected to this clearly retaliatory act, and they knew they had a problem because we’d been allowed to double cell in response to my formal ADA accommodation request in 2003, so they put us in cells side by side, so that my friend and cellmate could still provide assistance in the form of writing. We were still in the lexan cells.

In the interim, we’d been pursuing our civil suit, which had been dismissed a few times for technical reasons; and beginning in late 2009, we began to add peaceful activism activities to our challenges against illegal policies and practices regarding conditions of confinement, leading up to our hunger strike moves in 2011, which brought some international attention to CDCr’s torture policies and practices toward those of us who’ve been confined in the SHU for decades. And we were increasing the pressure via the prisoner class collective efforts we began in 2010, seeking to force the end to long term SHU, and we issued our historic Agreement to End Race-Based Hostilities in August 2012.

On Sept. 6, 2012, IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) had me moved away from the collective as well as my assistant, into a cell covered in lexan, isolated from all other Whites. The IGI’s excuse or pretext for this clearly punitive move in response to my litigation and activism efforts – our attorneys had filed the paperwork seeking to amend our lawsuit as a first step towards seeking class-action status on behalf of all similarly situated PBSP SHU prisoners around May of 2012, and it was getting a lot of publicity in July-August 2012 – was that the move was done for my safety, which was 100 percent bullshit. But it’s another tactic used to try to break prisoners – reporting rumors with the intent of creating mistrust, convincing prisoners they can trust no one and are in danger and need the prisoncrats to protect them.

'Out of Control- A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons' by Nancy Kurshan, coverAdd to these isolative, punitive, retaliatory moves – isolation from one’s social group; separation from people you are working with collectively in order to more effectively challenge long term illegal policies and practices; placement into more isolative cells wherein one is subjected to increased sensory deprivation and extreme heat and cold temperatures; spreading rumors that the isolated prisoner has safety issues – many additional acts of psychological torment being perpetrated against us on a daily basis: for example, the systematic withholding and delaying of mail; loud noises blasted into the pods via the speaker system, and loud noises by staff as they walk the tiers at night to count; denying adequate medical care; telling prisoners that if they want to be able to get the care and treatment they need, they need to get out of SHU; telling prisoners, “You hold the keys to get out of SHU anytime you want to, and thereby get to general population where you can get better care and treatment,” and them knowing that our sole avenue for release from PBSP SHU is via death, insanity or agreeing to become an informant for the state via debriefing.

The above are all facts supported by solid evidence, and they constitute direct proof of CDCr’s policies and practices regarding decades of subjecting thousands to a form of torture for the purpose of coercion, as further demonstrated by the following excerpt from the 2013 book by Nancy Kurshan, “Out of Control: A 15 Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.”

On pages 12 and 13, she writes: “(R)esearch the prisoners had conducted … revealed a 1962 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meeting in Washington, D.C., between prison officials and social scientists. Billed as a management development program for prison wardens, it coincidentally took place the same year the BOP opened Marion.

“Dr. Edgar Schein of MIT, a key player at that meeting, had written previously in a book entitled Coercive Persuasion about ‘brainwashing of Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). …

“Schein put forward a set of ‘practical recommendations,’ throwing ethics and morals out the window.

“They included physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties; segregation of all natural leaders; spying on prisoners, reporting back private material; exploitation of opportunists and informers; convincing prisoners they can trust no one; systematic withholding of mail; building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by or are totally isolated from their social order; using techniques of character invalidation, i.e. humiliation, revilement and shouting to induce feelings of fear, guilt and suggestibility; coupled with sleeplessness, an exacting prison regimen and periodic interrogational interviews.”

These types of brainwashing strategies that involve physical as well as psychological abuse were being adopted from international arenas and applied inside U.S. prisons. Examples include the tactics used by the Brits to try and break the IRA prisoners and similar tactics refined by the West Germans to try and destroy the RAF (Red Army Faction), who were fighting the imperialism in their country, which is to a large extent due to the West German government policies per USA government dictates.

“Dare to Struggle” – Art: Carlos Ramirez, P-69993, PBSP SHU C9-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“Dare to Struggle” – Art: Carlos Ramirez, P-69993, PBSP SHU C9-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Now compare the above notes regarding the 1962 conference to Dr. Schein’s recommendations, with the examples of how they operate in the PBSP SHU, that I’ve also included above, and try to tell me such policies and practices aren’t intentionally imposed for the purpose of torturing prisoners into becoming state informants.

Remember, when the Legislature had hearings on said policies regarding long term SHU, they asked the CDCr prisoncrats for evidence to support their claims that said policies and practices were in fact making the prison system – and the public in general – safer and secure. And the prisoncrats couldn’t produce shit.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

Additional evidence that is as seriously harmful and painful is contained in the book by Matthew Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” wherein Dr. Lieberman conducted studies using MRIs that demonstrated that people experience social and psychological pain in the same way they experience physical pain. It’s probably even more painful in the psychological context.

Here’s an example: Think about the worst painful experience you’ve ever had. Most people will think about the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, rather than a broken bone or other physical pain experience. It’s important to also remember that in addition to the circumstances and conditions prisoners are subjected to in the SHU or AdSeg environment is the fact that you are deprived of all semblance of normal human contact.

You are basically on sub-human, animal status for the duration of confinement in such units. You are always in a cage and/or in restraints, under escort by at least two guards, being observed by guards in the control booths who are armed with high power assault rifles.

The bottom line is that CDCr’s long term SHU policies and practices are without any demonstrable positive purpose. They are intended to break prisoners down so they either go insane or agree to become informants for the state –  period – which is 100 percent illegal.

You are under constant surveillance via guards in the control booths and floor staff, who can and do listen to any and all conversations in the pods when men are talking over the tier and on the yards, via speakers on the yard walls. You have no physical contact with anyone other than while in restraints, via the guards escorting you with their hands on you, or at medical, where you are in restraints with guards hovering over you.

This cell, D1-119 in the Pelican Bay SHU, was Todd’s home for many years. He would transform his bed into a desk in the daytime.

This cell, D1-119 in the Pelican Bay SHU, was Todd’s home for many years. He would transform his bed into a desk in the daytime.

You have no physical contact with your loved ones. Those who are fortunate to get visits – a hardship for the majority of PBSP prisoners due to the remote location of the prison – visit behind glass, talking over a phone with a small video camera mounted on the wall. IGI staff are listening and observing you and your visitor the entire visit, and if either of you says or does anything the IGI observers don’t like, they can cancel your visit on the spot or, a few days or so later, they’ll issue you a write-up for alleged visiting violations and you end up on visit restriction for between 90 days to a year to permanently being banned from visiting with certain people.

Going back to Lieberman’s book, “Social,” it’s important to note that his studies included the subject of empathy, and he found that people really do “feel other people’s pain” when they observe people close to them being mistreated. The reason this is relevant is that not only are the prisoners being subjected to the above referenced coercive, torturous treatment FOR DECADES, but our loved ones and friends are subjected to the same psychological pain as we are. Supported by scientific studies conducted by Dr. Lieberman, and others, we find that the technique for conducting such studies has only become available over the past 10 years.

The point of the above summary is to educate the public and refute CDCr’s propagandistic claim, “We don’t operate solitary confinement units, nor do we torture any prisoners.” Facts prove otherwise.

What can people outside do about the above ongoing torture policies and practices by CDCr?

First, let me clarify a few things about where our cause presently stands from my perspective:

We successfully educated the public and exposed CDCr’s decades-old on-going subjection of thousands of prisoners to the torture of long term, indefinite SHU, via our peaceful activism efforts – the writing campaign (our formal complaint and other statements) and our three peaceful protest actions in the form of mass hunger strikes and work stoppages. By “we” I’m referring to those on the inside of these prison walls and our outside loved ones and supporters.

“Wake Up” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP Z-168, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

“Wake Up” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP Z-168, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

In my previous writings about our on-going struggle for real reform, the No. 1 priority being the end of long term solitary confinement, I’ve expressed the opinion that the prisoners remain responsible for leading this cause to victory via our actions inside these walls. And I’ve put myself out there with my peers pushing for additional peaceful actions on our part in here.

The response has been mixed, and it’s very difficult to get a collective consensus, as many of our outside people know. The administration has done all it can to prohibit us, the Short Corridor Collective, from being able to communicate. This began with IGI moving me from D1 block to D4 block on Sept. 6, 2012, and has continued with the recent move to D4-207, further isolating me from the prisoners who have influence in their respective groups, and the Step Down Program, with related transfers of many of the collective members to other prisons across the state.

Thus, I’ve had to reflect and re-evaluate our position. This is really not acceptable, and from my perspective is an excuse for non-action.Look, I’ve respectfully sent out several letters calling on the people to hold the lawmakers accountable.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

The lawmakers must be held accountable

I’ve had to re-evaluate my prior perspective regarding prisoners continuing to lead this struggle in light of the above referenced factors. Subsequently, I snapped to the FACT that once we successfully exposed this torture program to the world, making the people aware, at least some of the responsibility shifts to the PEOPLE TO HOLD THE LAWMAKERS RESPONSIBLE.

And their failure to do so equates to THE PEOPLE enabling this to continue. The people have the power. The lawmakers hold their positions on behalf of their representative status – on behalf of the people.

It’s unbelievable to me to see the numbers of people out there who are aware of the continued torture we are subjected to, and yet they’ve failed to take any action to hold those responsible accountable.

With this in mind, here’s something people can do now towards holding the lawmakers responsible:

  1. Select a few of the lawmakers who we all know are in CDCr’s and CCPOA’s pockets for exposure as supporters and enablers of CDCr’s torture program, using social media to blast them worldwide. And you can also have people show up at their committee hearings to blast them as torture supporters. You’ll need to include references to public records supporting this position, such as the transcripts of the legislative hearings held regarding SHU, the September 2012 report by Amnesty International on PBSP SHU and the statements by Juan Mendez. The lawmakers you select for public exposure should be the five to 10 lawmakers who were the most vocal against Tom Ammiano’s bill
  2. Once these selected have come to be blasted in social media, you have a package together for presentation to the remaining lawmakers. The package needs to be a presentation supporting our position that this is a torture program, without cause or support for CDCr’s positions regarding making the system safer. Again, use the public records. And ask these lawmakers if they condone and support torture. Then, you present them with the things they can do to rein in CDCr’s abuse of power. This is a simple action. It’s something people can put in motion and have in motion while we plan our next moves.
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California prisoner representatives: All people have the right to humane treatment with dignity

Main reps mark the first anniversary of suspension of the 2013 Hunger Strike and the second anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities

by Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos and George Franco

October 2nd, 2014, published in the SF Bay View

Taken over from PHRM

We expect to hear soon from Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, the fourth of the main reps in the Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. His remarks will be posted online as soon as they arrive and will be printed next month. He has been transferred to Tehachapi: C-35671, 4B-7C-209, P.O. Box 1906, Tehachapi CA 93581.

Greetings of solidarity and respect to all oppressed people and those committed to fighting for the fundamental right of all people to humane treatment – to dignity, respect and equality.

We are the prisoner class representatives of what’s become known as the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement. Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities. This is an update on where things stand with our struggle to achieve major reforms beneficial to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general.

Our Agreement to End Hostilities would enhance prison safety more than any long-term isolation policies and yet it still has not been circulated and posted throughout the prison system. We urge that everyone read this document again and that you pass it around, study it, live it. (It is reprinted below.) The California Department of Corrections has yet to post this historic document. It needs to.

In 2010 -2011, many long-term SHU prisoners housed in the PBSP SHU Short Corridor initiated our “collective human rights movement” based on our recognition that, regardless of color, we have all been condemned for decades, entombed in what are psycho-social extermination cells, based on prisoncrats’ fascist mentality. That mentality is centered upon the growing oppressive agenda of the suppressive control of the working class poor and related prison industrial complex’s expansion of supermax solitary confinement units.

The pretext for that expansion is baseless claims that solitary confinement is necessary for the subhuman “worst of the worst” deemed deserving of a long slow death in hellish conditions. Supermax units were originally designed and perfected for the purpose of destroying political prisoners and now extend to a policy of mass incarceration.

Beginning July 1, 2011, we have utilized our collective movement to resist and expose our decades of subjection to this systematic state torture, via a campaign of peaceful activism efforts inside and outside these dungeon walls. We have achieved some success; we are not finished.

Last month we marked the first anniversary of the end of our historic 60-day Hunger Strike. Oct. 10 we mark the two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities.

We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us. We remind all concerned that our third peaceful protest action was “suspended” after 60 days, on Sept. 6, 2013, in response to Assemblyman Ammiano and Sen. Hancock’s courageous public acknowledgement of the legitimacy of our cause and related promises to hold joint hearings for the purpose of creating responsive legislation.

Hearings were held in October 2013 and February 2014 which were very positive for our cause in so far as continuing the public’s exposure to CDCR’s unjustifiable torture program. Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill was responsive to our issues and it was thus no surprise that the CDCR and CCPOA (the guards’ union) and others opposed it – and it was DOA on the Assembly floor. Sen. Hancock worked to get a bill passed with some changes, but, according to a statement she released, even that failed when the Governor’s Office and CDCR gutted months of work by Sen. Hancock, her staff and the staff of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

California Department of Corrections has calculated that their alleged “new” policy known as Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP) will give the appearance of addressing the horrific inhuman treatment we experience daily. They argue the Step Down Program is a major positive reform of the “old” policy and thereby responsive to our core demands.

They hope to undermine the statewide, national and international growing support for our cause – the end of long-term indefinite solitary confinement, the torture we experience year in and year out.

We will not stop until there is no more widespread torturous isolation in California for ourselves and for those who will come after us.

The STG-SDP is a smokescreen intended to enable prisoncrats to greatly expand upon the numbers held in solitary confinement – indefinitely. Their STG-SDP policy and program is a handbook to be used with limitless discretion to put whoever they want in isolation even without dangerous or violent behavior.

Their Security Threat Group policy and language are based on a prison punishment international homeland security worldview. By militarizing everything, just as they did in Ferguson, Missouri, poor working class communities, especially those of color, become communities that feed the police-prison industrial complex as a source of fuel.

The daily existence of poor people is criminalized from youth on. We become a source of revenue – a source of jobs – as our lives are sucked, tracked into the hell of endless incarceration, our living death. The STG-SDP is part of the worldview and language of death, not life. It is not positive reform. Security Threat Group takes social policy in the wrong direction.

CDCR is explicit in that thousands of us are in indefinite solitary because of who we are seen to be by them, not because we have done anything wrong. They still decide this by our art, our photographs, birthdays and confidential informants who get out of solitary by accusing the rest of us.

An unknown prisoner in solitary confinement drew how it feels to be entombed indefinitely.

The only “program” in the Step Down Program is a mandatory requirement to fill out meaningless journals that have nothing to do with rehabilitation – rather, they are about petty hoops for longterm SHU prisoners to jump through. The step incentives are so small as to carry very little real value or meaning for a majority of prisoners. They don’t meet our Supplemental Demands.

In fact the SHU at Tehachapi, where they send Pelican Bay SHU prisoners who have “progressed” to “better steps” in the SDP, have less visiting, more filthy cells, horrible toxic water, no pillows, nasty mattresses, rags for cloths, used mattresses, loud noises and some officers who are brutal racists.

Some of the privilege opportunities we won for SHU prisoners as a result of our struggles exist only at Pelican Bay. Some mean a lot to us but, in the long view, are trivial.

We need to get rid of the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. We need to hug our mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers, sisters.

We need more packages and phone calls and photographs. We need the same canteen that general population gets. We need overnight family visits. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits.

Ultimately, we call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.

Prisoncrats propagate the 800-plus case-by-case reviews to date as evidence that their STG-SDP is a new program. The last statistics showed that almost 70 percent of prisoners reviewed were released to general population – including some of us who have been kept in these concrete boxes buried alive for decades.

These statistics prove something entirely different. They are factual data showing, proving that for decades 70-plus percent of us have been inappropriately confined, isolated and tortured.

It is CDCR’s senior people who are ruling that we have been inappropriately confined. These high release statistics prove without a doubt that the force of public condemnation, of united peaceful activity by those of us inside and our human rights supporters outside are required to keep CDCR from continuing their intolerable abuse.

We call for California to end the shame of their policy of solitary confinement for innocuous social interaction.

CDC argues that the transfer of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners to other SHUs at Corcoran, New Folsom or Tehachapi SHU cells or to various general population prisons proves they have taken measures to address the horrors and inappropriate use of SHU. In fact, even with the large numbers of prisoners being transferred out of SHU cells, there are no empty SHU cells.

Across the system prisoners are being validated for art, innocuous social interaction and for lies and misrepresentations about our mail by confidential informants who escape the SHU themselves by accusing others of behavior that cannot be defended against because we are sent to the SHU for accusations that we do not know the specifics about!

We are isolated for confidential, uncorroborated “ghost” accusations with no due process review – because solitary isolation is categorized as an “administrative housing assignment” and not punishment. CDCR is filling up the SHU cells as fast as they are emptied.

CDCR administrators admitted in August 2011 that the programs and privileges sought in our demands were reasonable and should have been provided 20-plus years ago. Up until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits, but no longer today. Why not?

CDCR hopes to destroy our sense of collective structure and our collective unity. We hope to expand our sense of collectivity as we spread out. We work to keep all opinions open, to think through new ideas and options for peaceful activity to shut down the reckless use of isolation and other abuses.

California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States, both in absolute numbers of prisoners isolated – 12,000 in some form of isolation on any given day – and in terms of percentage of the prison population. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world – 80,000 prisoners in some form of isolation as part of the practice of mass incarceration and criminalization of life in poor communities.

“Step Down Program” – Art: F. Bermudez

CDCr cannot deny these facts. Our decades of indefinite SHU confinement and related conditions therein are what led us to peacefully rise up and make our stand as a united collective of human beings – and we have been clear about our opposition to the Security Threat Group-Step Down Program. The prisoner class human rights movement is growing and we’ve succeeded in exposing this nation’s penal system torture program – nationally and internationally.

This mainstream level of attention and global support for the prisoners’ cause is unprecedented and it will continue to grow – so long as we all remain united and committed to doing our part.

Our peaceful actions have demonstrated that we are not powerless and the concrete fact is that the operation of these prisons requires the cooperation of the prisoners – thus, the prisoners do have the power to make beneficial reforms happen when we are united in utilizing non-violent, peaceful methods such as hunger strike-work stoppage protests and forms of non-cooperation.

We are thinking about how to extend this power peacefully across the prison system to make these institutions more focused on rehabilitation, learning and growing so that our return to our communities helps us all. Following and living by the principles in the Agreement to End Hostilities can help make this happen.

With the above in mind, we remind all interested parties that this ongoing struggle for reform is a “human rights movement,” comprised of united prisoners, outside loved ones and supporters. The PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement’s 20 volunteer representatives remain united, committed and determined about achieving the Five Core and Forty Supplemental Demands and the principle goals of the August 2012 “Agreement to End Hostilities,” with the support of all like-minded members of the prisoner class, outside loved ones and supporters.

Our primary goal remains that of ending long-term solitary confinement (in SHU and ad seg). This goal is at the heart of our struggle.

California uses solitary isolation more than any other state in the United States. The United States uses solitary confinement more than any other country in the world.

Along the way we are also committed to improving conditions in SHU, ad seg and general prison population. We make clear that any policy that maintains the status quo related to the placement and retention of prisoners into SHU and ad seg cells indefinitely is not acceptable – regardless of what programs or privileges are provided therein.

We have rejected CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program and presented our reasonable counter proposal for the creation of a modified general population type program for the purpose of successful transitions between SHU and general population. CDCR’s top administrators have refused to negotiate, insisting upon moving forward with their STG-SDP. We are evaluating options.

Again, we need an end to the “mandatory” aspect of the ridiculous journals. We need to touch our loved ones and they need to be touched by us. Until mid-1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed to receive contact visits. There is no legitimate basis for not allowing them now.

We celebrate the brothers who are getting out of the SHU after decades of confinement and understand the willingness to participate in the current CDCr charade.

We recognize those brothers in Corcoran and others who are refusing to participate in the SDP.

We’ve patiently observed the political process at issue for the past year, since such was the basis for “suspending” our 2013 action, and it’s becoming clear that those in power are still not seeing us as human because they refuse to end long term solitary confinement – in spite of international condemnation – ensuring the continuation of such psycho-social extermination policies.

Lawmakers’ refusal to abolish indefinite solitary confinement in response to the established record of abuse and related damage it causes to prisoners, outside loved ones and society in general – supported by the record of the joint Public Safety Committee hearings – supports our position that we are subjected to systematic, state sanctioned torture. This is a permanent stain upon this nation’s human rights record. Their continued refusal will require us to re-evaluate all of our available peaceful options.

Keeping all of the above points in mind, we respectfully encourage people inside and outside these walls to commemorate this two-year anniversary of the Agreement to End Hostilities by joining with us in living by these principles inside and outside these prison walls.

We remain united, onward in struggle, always in solidarity.

  • Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • George Franco, D-46556, PBSP SHU D4-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

Agreement to End Hostilities

To whom it may concern and all California prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

  1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.
  2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!
  3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes. People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU, (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us prisoners and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!

The reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole.

We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!

Presented by the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) and Antonio Guillen; and the Representatives Body: Danny Troxell, George Franco, Ronnie Yandell, Paul Redd, James Baridi Williamson, Alfred Sandoval, Louis Powell, Alex Yrigollen, Gabriel Huerta, Frank Clement, Raymond “Chavo” Perez and James Mario Perez

Memorandum by Todd Ashker to CDCr-Administration

This was published on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, Sept. 18, 2014. The letter itself was written on Sept. 1st 2014

Todd Ashker writes from Pelican Bay SHU Short Corridor:

“….I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future…
The following is from me.

We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general….

.…The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later….”

PDF of transcribed Memo HERE.  Handwritten letter HERE

***

Memorandum

Sept. 1, 2014

To: CDCR-Administration
Secretary Beard, UnderSec. Hoshino
Director Stainer, Assoc. Dir. Diaz,
PBSP Warden Ducart

From: Todd Ashker, C58191-
One of four PBSP-SHU Prisoner Reps
(via outside mediation team)

Subject: Five Core Demands, 40 Supplemental Demands,
and CDCR’s STG-SDP

This memorandum is directed to the above CDCR Administrators for the express purpose of respectfully reminding you about unresolved, and/or continued problematic, issues relevant to our 2011-2014 Five Core and 40 Supplemental demands… and CDCR’s Security Threat Group-Step Down Program [STG-SDP]…

I am requesting your attention and responsive dialogue-addressing these issues during the meeting with our outside mediation team- and with Arturo Castellanos, George Franco, James Williamson, and myself in the near future… The following is from me.

We are presently at the one year point- post “suspension,” of our third peaceful protest hunger strike action against longterm-indefinite-solitary confinement [i.e. SHU/Ad-Seg confinement]… and related conditions therein and damage therefrom- to prisoners, our outside loved ones, and society in general, as supported by the public record from the legislative Joint Public Safety Committee hearings held in Oct. 2013/Feb. 2014…

I believe we have demonstrated out commitment to seeing the reforms sought in our demands implemented in principle and spirit, via our peaceful collective actions and I am reminding you of some relevant facts…

A)      In 2011, CDCR Undersecretary Kernan, and others, admitted that our five core demands were reasonable-and, many should have been implemented/provided [20] years ago-Three years later, many remain unresolved –

B)      It was our (2) peaceful hunger strike actions-involving thousands of prisoners statewide, and related international/national public exposure and condemnation of our decades of subjection to a form of coercive, state sanctioned torture… that brought out Undersecretary Kernan, and others’, public admission that CDCR had been over using the validation process’, and was going to revise such policies… responsive to our demands –

C)      Our Primary Goal has always been, and remains, …Ending Longterm Indefinite- SHU/Ad-Seg confinement!

Contrary to CDCR Secretary Beard, et al, claims the STG-SDP is not responsive to our Primary Demand because it continues a policy of indefinite SHU placement and retention. (And it’s structured in vague over reaching terms, that will ultimately result in many more prisoners being subject to indefinite SHU-in large part due to minor infractions- already being born out by fact of, more prisoners are in SHU-Ad-Seg today- than there were prior to start of STG-SDP pilot program Oct. 2012!)

D)      With our primary goal in mind -”Ending Indefinite SHU” policy- any policy/practice that enables such to continue is not acceptable, thus, while CDCR has been somewhat responsive to some of our demands re: SHU/Ad-Seg program/privilege issues- most of us in SHU for decades already,… remain here indefinitely! The point is, no matter how you dress it up- spending 24/7 in a small cell for months, years, decades- without normal human contact- especially, the contact of physically touching one’s outside loved ones… equals a form of torturous social extermination- period!!

E)      A major aspect of our collective movement to meaningfully reform this prison system in ways beneficial to prisoners, staff, outside loved ones, and society in general, is related to the system’s rank and file treating prisoners and our outside loved ones humanely- as fellow human beings, with dignity and respect.

I’m not sure how many of you current administrators were in the loop during our discussions about SHU policy change(s) in 2011-2012, …but we pointed out that “CDCR leadership knows how to create a reform policy- intended to be successful or, – one intended to fail.” …As summarized below, the current structure and implementation of the STG-SDP appears to be intended to fail- this will not bode well for CDCR!

Remember this, our 2013 peaceful protest action was “suspended” and many prisoners are not happy with much of the STG-SDP policy!! They aren’t being treated humanely-with dignity, or respect, under the present structure and implementation of said policy…

Like it or not, you need prisoners cooperation, support, and participation with any policy affecting thousands, or your policy fails!

For example, if all prisoners refused to participate in you SDP, while you go by the STG provisions- your policy fails you because you end up having tens-of-thousands on Step 1, indefinite SHU status… Add peaceful actions, resulting in additional peaceful protesting prisoners’ deaths, and costs, etc… should you have to force feed a hundred to two hundred etc. prisoners- and related global attention… At some point, jobs would be lost and changes made- ending the failed policy!! Will it come down to this?? The bottom line is, longterm-indefinite-SHU is not effective and harms all concerned. It’s ending nationwide and this will be the case in Calif. too- better to be sooner than later…

With the above in mind, the following are points supporting the referenced facts and unresolved issues you have the power to meaningfully resolve:

1)      Our alternative proposal to the STG-SDP has been on the table since Sept. 2012…. It’s based on principle points of (a) SHU placement being reserved for those guilty of felonious type violations-assessed determinate SHU terms, and (b) A modified type of general population transition program between SHU and G.P.- Our mediation team has details about this proposal, which have been provided to you as well. The SDP-Steps 3 and 4, aren’t even close to this (e.g. zero contact visits)

2)      In addition to provisions enabling continued indefinite SHU placement and retention, the following examples support the position that the STG-SDP as structured and implemented is designed to fail…

(a) The issue(s) re: legitimate- meaningful- incentives for each step have not been satisfactorily resolved (e.g. allowing more- phone calls, photographs, packages/special purchases, contact visits, etc.)

(b) Steps 3 and 4 at CCI-Tehachapi, are seen as a bad-step down re: conditions, programming and privileges- to the extent that many prisoners see no point in participating!

Examples are: visits are limited to (1) hour, on either Sat. or Sun.; cells are dirty and cleaning materials are not being provided; nor is laundry, clothing, linen, etc, being provided/exchanged; the T.V. and radio stations are very limited and out of signal all the time; the food is bad; shower program is poorly run- as is yard program; property is processed very slowly, and typewriters are not being allowed, etc.,etc.,etc; Staff attitudes are poor!!

Plus, many prisoners held in PBSP-SHU for decades have loved ones who reside in the Del Norte Co. area- with jobs, etc., and a transfer to CCI is a hardship to their loved ones…

You have ability to remedy the above, via use of former PSU [at PBSP] cell block(s) for Steps 3 and 4… These steps should also allow contact visits!! A Step 3 and 4 at PBSP should be an option for those with local family ties, etc!!

There’s no legitimate penological basis to deny these prisoners human physical contact with loved ones and friends… Up until mid 1986, all SHU prisoners were allowed contact visits- thus, it’s a reasonable, meaningful incentive for those prisoners participation in Steps 3 and 4…

(c)      The journals remain a problem for many (e.g. Corcoran) and I will point out that George Guirbino, et al, admitted at one of our meetings last year, that the journals were ‘lacking re:substantive rehab, value’ -qualifying this with- “but that’s all that’s available.” Look, we all know the journals have zero relevance to rehabilitation of prisoners transitioning between SHU and G.P. (demonstrated by the fact that prisoners placed on Step 5 by DRB’s case-by-case reviews of longterm SHU prisoners don’t have to do a single journal!!) You should make the journals a voluntary self-help program available to all CDCR prisoners… The way you’re using them as required part of SDP- Steps1-4, makes you all look bad- for many reasons!!

(d)      The case by case reviews at PBSP are too slow-100’s still wait on theirs.

Miscellaneous Issues Remaining To Be Resolved Include But Are Not Limited To:

  1. Mattresses (As you know, PIA mattresses are a big problem!??)
  2. Restriction on privileges should only be based on being guilty of abusing the specific privilege (eg., photographs, art materials)
  3. Allowable art materials expanded, per, principle of individual accountability (eg, woodless colored pencils, and all type of art paper)
  4. Photograph program for SHU/Ad-Seg visiting- as done in Vacaville in the 80’s (visitor and prisoner in photo, taken on visitor’s side of glass)

Your attention and anticipated positive responsive resolution(s) to the above subjects is appreciated.

Todd Ashker, C58191/PBSP-D4-121

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.1

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.1

 

 

 

 

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.2

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.2

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.3

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Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.4

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.4

 

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.5

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.5

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.6

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.6

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.7

Todd Ashker to Mike Stainer et al. Sept. 14 2014, p.7